IU researcher Natalia Murataeva presents her topic “Side Effects: Why it’s so hard to develop safe and effective drugs.” Photo by Stephen Sproull


In the back room at Bear’s Place on the last Wednesday of each month, people sip drinks and eat snacks while enjoying an event that’s different from the concerts, films, and comedy shows that take the stage other nights. Science Café Bloomington is a seminar series for the public covering current topics in science.

“It’s very informal,” says Jonathan Schlebach, the Indiana University chemistry professor who organizes the cafés. “You don’t have to come prepared with questions. You don’t have to take notes. You just listen to someone tell you about their interesting work. That’s what I like about it.”

Schlebach chooses topics by following the news and noting what issues are generating public interest. He then finds people at IU who are working in those areas, which he says is not a challenge. “There are hundreds of research-active faculty on campus,” he says.

Topics have included global warming, self-driving cars, nanocrystals, antimatter, smog, and the science of obesity. Audiences range in size from 20 to 80 people. A typical presentation is 45 minutes long and is followed by discussion.

Science Café Bloomington is modeled on a grassroots effort that began in the 1990s in France and England to make scientific research more accessible. Erika Lee, a lecturer in informatics at IU, learned about the concept while attending a professional conference. She decided to start the café in Bloomington 10 years ago. “We’re actually one of the oldest science cafés in the country,” Lee says.

“It’s about building bridges,” says Alex Straiker, an IU scientist who studies cannabis and who organized the café for several years before Schlebach took over. “There’s this wide and growing gap between scientists and science on the one hand, and the public on the other.” Straiker says preparing his talks helped him think about communicating the relevance of his work to a general audience. “It’s a good experience for everyone,” he says.

Science Café Bloomington is held at 6:30 p.m. on the last Wednesday of each month at Bear’s Place, 1316 E. 3rd St. For details, visit sciencecafebloomington.org or Science Café Bloomington on Facebook.